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'Mate Crime' Victim Shares Experience

In support of national Mental Health Awareness Week (16-22 May 2016), Gwent PCC Jeff Cuthbert and the Chief Constable of Gwent Police, Jeff Farrar, will visit the Connect Gwent victims' hub in Blackwood, the first ever multi-agency service of its kind in Wales which supports anyone who has been a victim of crime. They specifically met with a number of victims of crime with mental health requirements to find out how the specialist service they accessed at the hub is making a positive difference to their lives. 
 
They were also introduced to Marianne Seabright, the Specialist Practitioner from the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB) based at Connect Gwent. Marianne is a key member of the hub who is using her skills and knowledge to help victims of crime with mental health requirements. Since April 2015, 243 victims have been referred to her for psychiatric help.

As one of the first official engagements for Mr Cuthbert in his new role, the visit also marked his commitment to ensuring that victims of crime with mental health requirements have access to appropriate support in Gwent.

One of the victims the PCC and the Chief met during their visit was 52 year old David Bennett from Cwmbran. David was a victim of 'mate crime' - a form of hate crime in which a vulnerable person is manipulated or abused by someone they believed to be their friend. Mate crime is often difficult for police to investigate due to its sometimes sensitive nature and campaigners believe the problem is far more widespread than is currently reported. David, who has both physical and mental health requirements, had been expressing concern that items were going missing from his home and he didn't understand why. It was subsequently discovered that people were stealing from him.

"I regularly started to notice that things had been moving or had gone missing in the flat and it seemed like someone had been in there," said David.

"Items I knew that were there were disappearing, so I panicked and the first thing I did was phone the police. I was terrified so they came out. I then started questioning myself and thought it was down to the mental health issues I have. The police came out and they were brilliant."

The crime had a dramatic impact on David's confidence and trust in people.

"I was so low at one point that I considered taking my own life," said David.
 
"I explained to the police that I wasn't in a good place and if they could help me because I didn't know where to turn. I was then put in touch with Connect Gwent and Marianne which is the best thing that happened to me. The bottom line is that I can't imagine where I would be now without their support."

Thanks to appropriate support from the ABUHB Specialist Practitioner, David has been able to cope and recover from his ordeal. He was referred for an Occupational Health Assessment and now has all the necessary equipment he needs to help him around the house. New security and alarm systems have also been installed at his property and he has been referred to the mental health service for an assessment. David's story is a prime example of how victims of crime with mental health needs in Gwent are benefiting from the bespoke services at the hub.

David added: "It's vitally important that people like myself who have mental health issues have access to appropriate support if they have been a victim of crime. I wasn't getting help from anywhere until then." 

Marianne Seabright, who has been based at Connect Gwent since it was launched, said: "My role is to support one of the most vulnerable groups of people in the community - people with mental health conditions who are victims of crime. They are more likely to be victims than perpetrators, so it's important to ensure they receive appropriate and timely care. The agencies that make up Connect Gwent all work closely together to put the most appropriate package in place for victims."

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Jeff Cuthbert, said: "One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year and Mental Health Awareness Week plays an important role in enhancing people's understanding about these issues.

Crimes such as 'mate crime' can often make the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our community a misery and that's why it's vitally important that these people in their greatest hour of need have access to specialist provision. It's also important that we raise awareness about these underreported crimes. I am very pleased that we have the new hate crime framework in place because it allows people better opportunities to report these crimes and receive the right level of help."

The Chief Constable of Gwent Police, Jeff Farrar, said: "What you see at Connect Gwent is that we are now working together as one joined up public service and we understand and respond to the needs of victims. It's not easy and people's needs are often complex. Connect Gwent plays an important role in protecting people and that's why we are seeing some great results with regards to the satisfaction of victims of crime in the service they receive here in Gwent. I would encourage people to come and report these crimes to the police because we are here to help."

For Further information about the Connect Gwent victims Hub in Blackwood and the services provided please visit www.connectgwent.org.uk

The Welsh Government has produced a fact sheet about Mate Hate Crime which can be accessed here http://bit.ly/1TQigHr